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What Is Therapeutic Writing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Therapeutic writing involves participating in writing activities to address emotional issues. People may work under the direction of a therapist or counselor, or can initiate a writing program independently. This may involve activities on a daily basis or less frequently. In all cases, participants engage in expressive writing to put down thoughts, emotions, narratives, and other experiences. Writing is confidential and is intended for personal consumption or sharing with a therapist, and perhaps a group, if the patient is in group therapy.

Studies on this therapy technique demonstrate that research participants benefited from therapeutic writing exercises intended to help them express trauma and process emotions. Therapeutic writing can be useful in cases where people have difficulty communicating by other means, and may be integrated into a larger treatment plan. A client who is having trouble with a situation, for example, might write a letter to the people involved as part of therapy. The letter can help the client articulate goals and a desired outcome, and work on how to approach the people in real life to resolve the issue.

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Exercises in therapeutic writing typically encourage people to write for a block of time, such as 15 minutes. They may work from a prompt or with a more general request to write about their days or issues coming up in their lives. In guided therapy, the therapist may review the writing and discuss it with the patient, or patients can talk about the emotions that came up while writing. Journaling may also be employed outside the therapy room; therapeutic writing can assist with processing emotions that come up in therapy, addressing issues that come up during the week, or enriching the self-examination facilitated by therapy sessions.

Writing can be done in journals, on loose sheets of paper, or on a computer. In teletherapy, patients may keep an online writing journal with limited access to allow the therapist to read. Therapists can also use electronic journals to check in on patients between sessions, looking at what they’re writing about and identifying specific issues to discuss in therapy.

Informal approaches to writing as therapy can be seen in many regions of the world. People may keep personal journals or diaries intended for their private use, where they can narrate events and explore emotions. Some add a self-directed group therapy aspect as well by sharing their writing with friends who can provide advice or insight.

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